the rest of the year

It’s one of the curses of my life in recent years that three of the things I look forward to the most each year – the Nashville Symphony concert in Shelbyville, for which I’m co-chair of the organizing committee; the American Cancer Society Relay For Life in Bedford County, for which I’m publicity and online chair (and was just named volunteer of the year); and my annual week at Mountain T.O.P. Adults In Ministry all fall within about a six or seven week period in May and June. This sets me up for a huge letdown once they’re all over with. I want it to be Relay night again. I want to be pulling into Cumberland Pines again (especially since there were a few aspects of this year’s AIM experience where I’d like a do-over). But now I have 11 months until Relay next year (and I’m not even sure if we’ll have a symphony concert next year).

I have no time to mope, however. Ever since April 8, I’d been on loan to the Times-Gazette’s sister paper in Lewisburg. I was still writing a few things for the Times-Gazette – county government stories, plus a few features – but my day-to-day work was at the Marshall County Tribune.

I found out while I was at Mountain T.O.P. that my sojourn is over and I will show up for work on Monday at the Times-Gazette. I will hit the ground running; we have some hot county budget issues, and we’ll soon start (if they haven’t already) working on stories for our annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration supplement.

I also plan to try out for a play next month. Martin Jones is a pressman at the T-G with whom I’ve appeared in several productions. (I played his father in “Come Blow Your Horn”; he played my father in “Daddy’s Dyin’ … Who’s Got The Will?” We’ve also appeared together in other things.) He’ll be directing a production of “Don’t Drink The Water,” with auditions next month and the actual production in September.

And I plan to continue work on the self-published book of sermons and devotionals that I keep talking about. I have been making some progress, but now that Relay and all that is behind me, I can get even more serious.

On a related note, I am already included in a new book of devotionals. In honor of its 40th anniversary, Mountain T.O.P. has published “Walk Down This Mountain,” a collection of devotions collected throughout the ministry’s history, broken down into sections by decade.

I knew they were talking about it and had even given them some of my self-publishing experience and pointed them towards CreateSpace, the firm I used for my Bad Self-Published Novel. I did not realize until I flipped through a copy last month that my “cast-iron skillet sermon,” which I adapted for use as a Holy Time Out several years back, was included. The Kindle edition of the book is now listed on Amazon, but the paperback still has a placeholder page. And I don’t have the direct link to the CreateSpace page. I will post all of that to social media once I get it.

So maybe I’ll be busy enough this summer to avoid the post-Relay, post-Mountain T.O.P. letdown.

-30-

One of the last times I had any contact with Chris Shofner – I thought it was on Facebook messenger, but I can’t find it there – he asked when we were going to have lunch again. I don’t know why we didn’t set something up then and there; it was probably my fault.

We’d had lunch just a few months before. I happened to have the day off from work, but when I went out to my car to go and meet Chris, it wouldn’t turn over. I called Chris, and he good-naturedly came over, gave me a jump start, and followed me to AutoZone, where I bought a new battery I hadn’t planned on buying. Chris ended up buying my lunch.

In 1985, when I returned to Bedford County, tail between my legs, after my first career plan hadn’t quite worked out, I decided to go and put in an application at the hometown newspaper. I’d taken some newspaper classes as part of my mass communications major, and I’d spent a lot of time at the campus paper my senior year – mostly because I had a crush on a woman who worked there. But I hadn’t taken as many newspaper courses as I might have if I’d known I was going to spend 30 years-and-counting in the business.

Anyway, when I got to the T-G, the first person I talked to was Chris. He had not officially been named editor yet – that would come a few weeks later – but had been doing the job. He told me how much he liked my resume and how much he needed a reporter. He then took me in to see Mr. Franklin Yates, the publisher who’d merged the Times and the Gazette in 1948. Mr. Yates, who had a gruff exterior but a big heart, originally told me he ha nothing open – which I knew, from my conversation with Chris, was not the case. I figured I’d offended him somehow and gave up on working at the Times-Gazette. But it was just Mr. Yates being Mr. Yates.

After I’d left, Mr. Yates called Marvin Whitaker – who’d been my high school principal and who was, at that time, layleader of one of the churches at which my father was preaching. I’m sure Mr. Whitaker told Mr. Yates that I’d hung the moon and several of the stars. In any case, Mr. Yates called me in a day or two later and offered me the job.

I had a great relationship with Chris during the time he was my editor. He was kind, considerate, empathetic. We always felt like friends, not just co-workers, and he always made me feel like he appreciated what I did.

I loved that Chris was a musician on the side. When I first met him, he was in a band called Jet Set. They often introduced themselves as “Maxell recording artists Jet Set,” Maxell not being a record label but rather a brand of blank recording tape. Later, he and his friend Scott Pallot would put a lot of love and care into a children’s album.

Chris went on to work in marketing for a company in Memphis, but then – after a health scare – came back here to Middle Tennessee, where he was the press spokesman for the City of Murfreesboro for a number of years. More recent health concerns forced him to give that up, too.

Now that he’s gone, of course, I wish not only that I’d had lunch with him the last time we talked, but a lot more times. He was right here in town, and I didn’t take the time.

Chris was 61. He died less than a week after his mother, Betty, and I can’t imagine what that must be like for the family.

I hate that I’m going to miss visitation and the funeral. I know Chris will understand that I’ll be in ministry up on the Cumberland Plateau; I leave tomorrow morning for a week at Mountain T.O.P. But I’m sorry I won’t get to speak to his wife, attorney Ginger Shofner, or to his daughter Willa Kate. Please join me in keeping them in your prayers.

(NOTE: In the old days when news stories were typed on paper, ‘’-30-“ was typographer’s code for the end of a story.)

Break out the taboo cards

When I first signed up for Mountain T.O.P. Adults In Ministry (AIM) in 1993, it was because I thought it would be fun teaching creative writing to teenagers as part of the “Summer Plus” program. I had no teaching experience; my only experience was as a writer.

I didn’t actually get to teach the class that first year, but I’ve taught it many times since. Some have been more successful than others. Creative writing is the type of workshop where the teens have to want to be there. If they don’t – maybe they got their first choice of workshop in the morning but were arbitrarily assigned to creative writing in the afternoon – it seems an awful lot like school. I try hard not to make it seem like school, but I don’t have all of the tools in my toolkit that a professional educator would have.

Anyway, the past couple of years, for reasons I won’t go into, I haven’t been able to make plans in advance to go to AIM. In both 2013 and 2014, I got the chance to go at the last minute – which was great, but what it meant was that the lineup of Summer Plus workshops was already in place and they didn’t need to add another one. So I participated in Summer Plus solely as an assistant in someone else’s workshops. Last year, for example, I helped out in a cooking workshop taught by Jean Nulle and in a photography workshop taught by Bobby and Robert Matthews. That was fun – I enjoy helping in a workshop, especially in crafty sorts of workshops where it works out for the helpers to jump in and do the project alongside the teens.

But I still missed teaching my own workshop. And so, this year, when I was able to get my AIM application in well in advance, I looked forward to creative writing. I waited patiently to hear something. In the past, some of the preliminary arrangements for Summer Plus would sometimes be made by the year-round staff, and so you’d get a call a month or two before camp confirming what you wanted to teach and so on. But now, all of that is handled by the summer staff – who’ve only been on duty a few weeks and who’ve been busy this past week running the first AIM event of the summer. So I’ve been on pins and needles waiting to hear from somebody and confirm that I would, in fact, be teaching creative writing.

I got my courtesy call today, and everything is “go” for me to teach creative writing. I will only have one session (which is my preference, although I’d have done two sessions if they’d needed me to). The other half of the day I will be helping out with someone else’s workshop.

I generally start out by having the students (along with any helpers) pair up and interview each other and write a simple paragraph which they can use to introduce each other to the group. Then we talk about the importance of good description. At this point, I generally break out the party game “Taboo.” In this game, a player must describe a word or concept to his or her teammates – but can’t use the five most-obvious clues, which are taboo. For example, you might have to describe “Superman” without using “hero,” “Clark Kent,” “Lois Lane,” “fly” or “Krypton.” A member of the opposing team stands over your shoulder with a buzzer, ready to penalize you if you say one of the “taboo” words. There’s an egg timer, and you try to get your team to guess as many cards as possible before time runs out and the other team takes a turn.

We use the game to make a point about colorful description, but it’s also just fun to play. Later in the week, I’ll use it at the end of the session if we have time to kill or the natives are getting restless.

I’m on my second Taboo game, and I really need a new one – the buzzer is made of parts from the first game and the second game put together, and some of the cards have out-of-date cultural references that I suspect have been changed in the latest edition.

How far we go with storytelling depends on who’s in the class and what level they’re at. Some years, we’ve worked on a short and simple group story, short enough to be read aloud during our presentation for parents and family members at the end of the week.

One year, Diana Simmons Woodlock, the daughter of Mountain T.O.P. executive director Ed Simmons, was my helper in the class – a bit intimidating, since Diana really is a teacher. She told me at the end of the week that she’d been skeptical about the group story idea but was amazed at how far we’d gotten with it. That made me feel good.

I talk to the teens about the importance of journaling – as always with Summer Plus, we’ll have teens from a variety of home situations, good and bad, and some of them would no doubt benefit from an outlet. (One year, a girl actually told me that her counselor had encouraged her to journal.) I give them blank journals at the end of the week as a gift. Most of the journals I have were donated to me some years back, but in 2013 or 2014 – during a brief window when I thought I might still be teaching the class – I realized that most of the remaining journals were very girly in appearance. As it happens, most of my students over the years have been girls, but there have been boys, too, and so I rushed out that year and bought two or three gender-neutral looking journals just to be on the safe side.

I can’t wait to see how things go this year.

Checking in

Well, I’ve been sloppy about blog posts the past week or two, because I’ve been putting everything on Facebook and I was so wrapped up in Relay.

I’ve about recovered, although I’ll get another taste tomorrow, when I go to visit Marshall County’s Relay For Life and take a few photos of it for the Tribune. I went to Tullahoma’s Relay in 2014, but this will just be the second time I’ve been to a Relay event other than Bedford County’s. Trina Rios, the chair of Marshall County’s event, came to ours last weekend, and I was able to introduce her to Jennifer Smith, one of our two co-chairs. I’m looking forward to seeing how Marshall County does Relay.

Marshall County’s event is not overnight — it runs from noon until midnight on Saturday. The American Cancer Society used to require that Relay events take place overnight. It was part of the symbolism of the event — it symbolized a cancer patient passing through the dark night of illness and emerging on the other side, either in remission or, barring that, at least an end to pain. There are enough prime-time or daylight hours for the public — since we want the public to come and patronize the various concessions run by our teams. But then the wee hours of the morning are just for the walkers, and the people on the track at 3 a.m. can take a special kind of pride in their participation. That’s the way it works in Bedford County.

ACS, however, dropped the overnight requirement. Part of the event must still take place after dark — so that you can have a luminaria ceremony — but you don’t have to go overnight. Some communities are moving to a schedule that puts their entire event during the day and/or evening, so that they can maximize public attendance and the concession/festival aspects of Relay.

I understand this, and support the communities making that choice, but I also have a soft spot in my heart for the symbolism of that overnight walk. I think of the late Dr. Gordy Klatt, who started Relay For Life in Tacoma, Washington, by running for 24 hours as an individual fund-raiser. I imagine him running at 3 a.m., and still being on the track as the eastern sky started to lighten up a bit. I think of him running as the sun rises, and I smile.

During Relay, I posted a closeup of my Martha Deason Award plaque to Facebook, as well as the funny video where I drop my phone as my name is called. The closeup of the plaque got a lot of hits and likes, so I felt it would be overkill to add the photo that my co-worker Adria took of me using my T-G camera a few minutes later. But I liked that photo, which went into the T-G today, and so I’ll share it here.

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I still don’t know why they presented the award at night — in the past, it’s been part of the general awards given out at the end of Relay. I was walking back from somewhere, and Jennifer and Sharon stepped out of the gazebo to make an announcement. They mentioned the Martha Deason Award, which is our local Relay’s traditional volunteer-of-the-year plaque. I’d been making video all night, of course, and figured I’d capture the Deason award presentation as part of that. My smartphone was on a small, portable charger — the basic size and shape of a sleeve of Hall’s cough drops — with a cable connecting the two. Sharon was talking about the award, and when she got to my name, I was surprised enough that I let go of the charger. It dropped to the end of its cable and then jerked the phone out of my hand. I didn’t technically drop the phone all the way, just fumbled with it.

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I thought I'd get some video of them presenting the award… Little did I know.

Posted by John I. Carney on Friday, June 5, 2015

It was a neat honor. I’m proud of it. There are a lot of others who probably do more, but I’m an easy target because people know who I am.

making god smile

I used to have a CD called Making God Smile: An Artists’ Tribute to the Songs of Beach Boy Brian Wilson, which I adored – maybe a little too much. I loved it so much I wanted to share it, loaned it to an out-of-town friend, and never got it back. To make matters worse, I had (for some reason) only ripped a few favorite tracks to my computer, not the whole thing. And I don’t think those few tracks survived from that computer to the one I own now.

Well, when I was using an Amazon gift card for my birthday the other night, I looked for items on my wish list, and it was only $6.95, so I figured this was as good a time as any to replace it. My new copy arrived today.

This is a hard CD to explain, but I just love it. As the title indicates, it’s a tribute album, with various covers of Brian Wilson songs. Most of those tributes are by people who (if I’ve heard of them at all) are known as Christian artists – including two of my all-time favorites, Terry Scott Taylor and Randy Stonehill. Terry’s work in Daniel Amos and The Swirling Eddies has always been heavily influenced by both Brian Wilson and The Beatles, so it’s no surprise that he’d be a part of this. The album also includes Phil Keaggy and Sixpence None The Richer.

But this isn’t a Christian album per se. There is some spirituality to it, to the extent that some of Brian’s songwriting tends towards that, but not the over, ham-handed spirituality found in most quote-Christian-unquote music. And there are plenty of other cuts that are just fun Beach Boys stuff.

The covers are fun – some hew close to the originals, others veer off. Kevin Max, formerly of DC Talk, and Jimmy Abegg, who played in Vector and for Rich Mullins, and now is a member of Steve Taylor & The Perfect Foil, the band I saw last November and won’t shut up about, offer a delightfully-weird, slowed-down version of “Help Me Rhonda,” giving it an almost morbid quality.

I think my favorite cut, though, is the very first one. Tom Prasada-Rao and Amilia K. Spicer’s duet on “Your Imagination” is just beautiful, bright and melodic, with wonderful harmony. I bet it made Brian Wilson smile. Which leads me to the question you always have with a collection like this – what did the honoree think of it? Had Brian heard of any of these people before? (I’m sure he’s heard of Sixpence, and perhaps he even remembered Phil Keaggy from his days in Glass Harp.) Did he enjoy what they did with his music? I would love to know.

Obviously, he’s not opposed to tributes to his work, such as that all-star BBC video from last year.

All of this, of course, is getting me primed for the Brian Wilson biopic coming out this summer:

whirlwind

It has been a heck of a week so far, and it’s only Wednesday.

Last night, of course, was the annual Nashville Symphony concert at Calsonic Arena in Shelbyville, for which I’m a co-chair. Of course, I probably shouldn’t take credit for that this year; I’ve been spending my days in Lewisburg for the past month, and that meant that Dawn Holley had to do most of the heavy lifting. This was, without going into it, a really difficult year for the concert. We didn’t think it was going to happen at all, and then when we found out we had gotten a reprieve, we were already late hitting the ground. But I have spent more than 20 years now working to promote this concert, and as frustrated as Dawn and I became with the process this year, all was forgiven the moment that Vinay Parameswaran picked up his baton Tuesday night. I love this event. Check out the photos here.

This morning, I went in to the Times-Gazette – remember the Times-Gazette? – in my role as certified master tour guide. Most of the tours I give are for small collections of scouts. But this morning, we had two large groups of kindergarten students from Cascade. We gave the tour to the first group (two classrooms, or about three dozen kids), then they traded places with another group which had been down at the fire station.

We’d been worried about how things would go with two such large groups, but it all worked out fine. I did my normal routine as tour guide, but I can’t take credit for a couple of special additions to the program. With each group, we took a group photo before they started the tour, and then a few photos during the course of the tour. Our paginators put together a mock front page of the newspaper featuring each group, and we printed out copies on our color copier, so each child got to take home a mock front page featuring his or her tour group. (The teachers held on to the front pages until, I suspect, the end of the day.) 

Our first group had finished its tour and was waiting in our front lobby for the other group to return on the school bus from the fire station and switch places. Our publisher, on the spur of the moment, brought out an end roll of newsprint and unrolled it on the floor from one end of the room to the other. We scrounged for every Sharpie or highlighter in the building and just let the kids draw on the giant strip of newsprint. It was so popular that we let the second group do the same thing, even though we didn’t need to kill the same amount of time.

roll of paper

Just as soon as the tour was over, I was out the door and on the way from my permanent employer to my temporary employer, the Marshall County Tribune, where I’ve been spending my days lo this past month. In Marshall County, I had to put together a Lewisburg election results story and then cover a meeting at Henry Horton State Park involving our U.S. congressman. In between, of course, there was other routine stuff – formatting school lunch menus, typing up marriage license listings and real estate transfers, that sort of thing.

I rushed back from Lewisburg to Shelbyville in time for normal Wednesday night dinner at First United Methodist. My lunch had consisted of a bag of potato chips, so I eagerly tore into Andy Borders’ meal of ham, pinto beans, turnip greens and hoe cakes.

So it’s been a hectic 24 hours, and the rest of the week will be busy too. Tomorrow night, even though I am not a cancer survivor, I will attend the annual Relay For Life Cancer Survivor Dinner here in Shelbyville. I, in my role as a Relay organizing committee member, will give a brief “Why I Relay” testimony among several other speakers. Relay is less than a month away, and you can give towards my participation by clicking here.

On Friday night, my father and Ms. Rachel will take me out to dinner to celebrate the relentless passage of time. (I will turn 53 on Friday.)

the elusive sicilian

UPDATE: I found the coupons after all! They’re round, and like Frisbees they flopped out a little farther than I had looked for them. Apologies, Screamin’ Sicilian; you did a great job after all.

A week or two ago, I posted this photo to Facebook:

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I explained that I had an online coupon, loaded to my Kroger Plus card, for something called Screamin’ Sicilian pizza, a brand with which I was not familiar. The pizza box includes a punch-out moustache on the back.

The pizza was wonderful – outstanding for a frozen supermarket pizza, with really good flavor. It is priced as a premium product, not surprisingly, and so I tried to go to the company’s website and sign up for its e-mail list, which supposedly gets you a dollar-off coupon. I tried from two different computers, a Mac at work and a PC at home, and the signup process wouldn’t complete – the site took me to a page with an error message and some HTML code. I posted about this on Facebook, and the company – which does a commendable job of following social media – responded and asked me to send them my mailing address.

I did, and sure enough, today in my mailbox I got a hand-addressed envelope from Screamin’ Sicilian Pizza. The letter apologized for my trouble and invited me to use one of the enclosed coupons and give the rest to my friends.

The only trouble?

There were no coupons in the envelope. I looked in the envelope to see if I’d missed them, I looked on the floor to see if they’d fallen out without me noticing. There was nothing.

I know it was an honest mistake, but I swear it reminded me of some dialogue from an old Marx Brothers movie. Groucho is dictating a letter to someone, probably Zeppo, to one of his creditors. The letter ends with “enclosed, please find 20 dollars.”

“Do you want me to send them 20 dollars?” Zeppo asks.

“You do, and you’re fired,” Groucho shoots back.

A piece of the Rock

I enjoy walking down to Riverbottom Park, just off the Shelbyville square on the banks of the Duck River. Most days, I’ll get out of the office and walk from the Times-Gazette to the square, then from the square down to Riverbottom Park, then back up to the square, stopping by First UMC on my way back to say hello to whoever’s in the office. On weekends, sometimes I will walk from my apartment up to Riverbottom Park and back.

I didn’t want to let my walking go by the wayside while I’m on temporary assignment here in Lewisburg. I’ve been walking every day, going in different directions from the square each day, exploring a little of the area near the square. This paid off on the very first day; I saw the marquee at First UMC Lewisburg advertising an appearance by H.K. Derryberry, whom I’d met only a week or two earlier and got a story out of it.

But it wasn’t until yesterday, after going in pretty much every other direction, that I stumbled across the Rock Creek Park greenway. I walked part of it yesterday and walked more of it today. I took about a 40-minute walk today and still didn’t cover all of it. What a treasure. I wish Shelbyville had a walking trail this long and this nice. I know that there was an original plan for a greenway that would run from the square to Never Rest Park, but they haven’t been able to get all of the necessary property or develop it. Well-maintained, well-designed, and beautiful, with benches and trash cans and a pedestrian bridge over the creek, and so on. Plenty of geese (not surprising, since there’s one of those coin-operated geese food vending machines near the pedestrian bridge). It’s convenient to the square.

While I’m over here, I’ll enjoy having that greenway for my daily walk. I just wish there was someplace to eat on the square. Shelbyville has four restaurants on or close to the square: Pope’s Cafe, Coffee Break, Bocelli’s and new arrival P&B’s Kitchen. Lewisburg has zero, although I found a Mexican restaurant just a little farther out.

Mom’s birthday

Today would have been my mother’s 75th birthday.

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This is one of the last photos I have of her, with my sister Elecia at a party following my niece Jacey’s high school graduation in May 2010. She died of pancreatic cancer in August of that year. I am so sorry Mom won’t be around for Jacey’s wedding next month. I think of her often, as we all do – I’ll see something that she would have liked, and be instantly reminded of her.

In 2013 and 2014, I happened by pure chance to be working on Relay For Life stuff on Mom’s birthday, and this year I only missed it by a day (in either direction – I had Bark For Life yesterday, and Relay For Life committee meetings tomorrow night). Raising money for the American Cancer Society won’t bring my mother back, but maybe it will give a few more people some more days, months or years with their own mothers and fathers and spouses and children.

Value the time you have with the people you love. You never, ever know which meeting will be your last.

A tale of two cities

It has been a long day — I spent the first half of it working for one newspaper, and the second half of it working for another. I will be filling in at the T-G’s sister paper, the Marshall County Tribune, for a few weeks while they’re short-staffed. I came in to the T-G as usual this morning and tried to get some loose ends tied up, then I went and worked at the Trib this afternoon. I rushed back to Shelbyville just in time (a few minutes late, actually, but they were still serving) for dinner at church.

Tomorrow, I’ll do the same thing in reverse — working at the Trib in the morning, then coming back through Shelbyville in the afternoon to take care of a feature interview I’d already scheduled before I knew about my temporary duties. From that point forward, I’ll be at the Trib most of the time, except on Monday mornings, when I’ll stop by the T-G and do my regular weekly hour at Learning Way Elementary. I’ll also cover a few after-hours assignments for the T-G.

I helped out at the Trib a couple of years ago, but that was just occasional assignments for a few weeks. This time, I’ll be putting in regular office hours. It’s a big change – I’ll have been at the T-G for 30 years this coming July, and so it’s a challenge to drop into a different newsroom and a community where I don’t know very many people.

I’m tired. I will sleep well tonight.